leadership dot #3410: bosses

I recently presented a two-day workshop on supervision and the refrain I heard over and over was: “I wish I had known this earlier in my career.” As we acknowledge National Bosses Day today, I encourage you to provide supervision training to those who have that function as part of their role.

Far too often, we promote someone who is good at their job into a new position that involves supervision. But those responsibilities bring with it a need for a substantial mindset shift — from being an independent producer to succeeding through facilitation and the success of others. It’s not something that happens intuitively — or easily — and many times the new supervisor was without both formal training and even informal mentoring to use as an example. It’s a collision waiting to happen.

A solid supervision framework can provide the mental shift and functional structure to realign expectations and set the new supervisor up for success. If you’re a supervisor, become a great one by giving those who have people responsibilities under you the resources necessary to make it a happy day for bosses every day.

leadership dot #3399: superstar

My car dealership allows you to choose “your” service advisor and request that person when you schedule appointments. My guy is Nate. My car had a warning light come on so I called him. He was his usual delightful self, arranged the appointment around my schedule, and provided a loaner for my convenience. Only when I arrived, I learned he was home with a sick child.

The gentlemen who took care of me were polite and helpful, but they weren’t anything special. It created a whole different experience. They were good, but they weren’t great, and it caused me to ponder why.

Nate makes me feel like he knows me, my car, and will take care of me. He calls me by my preferred name instead of the formal name in their system. I trust him to be a straight-shooter and to only do what repairs are necessary because there have been times when he did a quick fix to see if we really needed a full replacement. And he explains the work without making me feel stupid — a rarity in the car repair world.

None of this is rocket science but it makes a world of difference in the service experience. I bought my car at this dealership because of Nate, and drive two hours each time I need a repair. It’s all worth it to me.

There are people who can do the job and others who shine at their work. If you find yourself with a superstar, especially one in a front-facing position, never minimize the impact that one person can have on your organization. Reward them, appreciate them, and cherish them as your key organizational differentiator.

leadership dot #3391: fire

A friend is in the midst of a crisis at his place of employment. Several people have resigned, leaving him to hold the bag and cover their responsibilities in addition to his own. It’s mid-stream in the work, a horrible time to try and find any help, let alone onboard them and have them actually contribute. He is drowning.

And what was the response of his senior manager? To recommend having a retreat to talk about the issues that have led to the resignations and consider a long-term plan.

Just no.

When the place is on fire, support looks like a bucket of water, not a lecture on fire safety. There is a time and place for debriefing and planning, but in the midst of the crisis is not it.

If you find yourself in a position where you should or want to offer to help someone, first ask them: “What do you need from me?” or as BrenĂ© Brown writes: “What does support look like for you?” Your aim should be to become part of the solution rather than an addition to the problem.

Thanks, Meg!

leadership dot #3352: context-setting

The Major League Baseball game at the Field of Dreams revolved around the movie. It was much more than playing at the Field location. There were cutouts of players placed in the corn to appear as if they were walking out of the field. Hidden speakers played the iconic lines that were spoken to Ray in the film. Players wore throwback uniforms and similar players performed as “ghost players” on the original field. The fans and the players all entered the stadium by walking through rows of corn. Signs such as “go the distance” were placed throughout the corn maze. Everyone was quoting: “Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.”

The references to the movie were omnipresent. So, the most astonishing thing I heard about the entire production was that several of the Yankee players had never seen the movie. Ever. I can understand why a 1989 movie might not have been on their watch list initially, but to fly from New York to play on the Field of Dreams and not yet watch it — well, that I cannot understand. To me, this is a failure of leadership.

A big part of your role as a leader is to set the context and prepare your team to be successful. This involves more than teaching mechanics and includes helping your members understand norms, protocols, and culture. If I had been part of Yankees leadership, that movie would have played on the plane ride from New York. I believe it would have provided a much richer experience for the players when they understood the references, the sentiments conveyed in the movie and the reason for all the nostalgia.

As a leader, I have played such roles by preparing delegations to attend a conference, helping staff members understand the expected behavior in a board meeting, or teaching new employees the traditions behind signature events. All these context-setting conversations served to help the team members get the most out of their experiences and to avoid unnecessary blunders.

The next time your team is in a big game — whether that takes place on a field or in a meeting room — ensure that they are coached on the environment in addition to the playbook. A deeper understanding leads to a richer appreciation of the moment.

Cutout of a player walking out of the corn

leadership dot #3337: rope

The cattle barns at the county fair showcased some beefy specimens — many of them well over 1000 pounds. And although the animals could trample you, they remained in their stalls and were led into the show ring with only a thin rope muzzle.

I think about the elaborate systems that organizations put into place to control their employees but everyone would be better off taking a lesson from the 4-H youth. They repeatedly demonstrate that a small amount of control in the right place is all that you need to achieve the desired behavior.

The steer aren’t allowed to roam freely but neither do they have gates and shackles and heavy-handed measures to keep them in the corrals. Try to reduce your controls to the equivalent of a small rope — enough to provide guidance without oppressive restriction.

leadership dot #3323: enforce

I just returned home from a trip to Chicago and my travels reminded me — once again — about the importance of setting clear expectations with consequences.

When I was in the city or any of the interstates around the airport, the posted speed limit was just a suggestion. People routinely drove 15 miles per hour above it, with a few outliers racing past even faster. Even though the limit was 70 mph, it did not deter people from ignoring the signs.

Later on my journey, I drove through a tiny town that is known for its notorious speed trap, and sure enough, everyone screeched to the requisite 25 mph and crawled through their city limits. The expectations were shared in the same way, but through consistent enforcement, people have come to know that this city means what the sign says.

Think about how your organization enforces its rules. Do you post the equivalent of highway speed limit signs, knowing that people will use them as suggestions rather than taking them literally, or do you administer consequences like in the small town where your people know that you mean what you say? It’s not what you say that matters, rather what you do after saying it that counts.

leadership dot #3315: appreciating

In a Harvard Business Review article, the authors described the gap between managers and employees when it comes to effective recognition. “Managers incorrectly assumed employees knew how they felt about them,” they write, and managers “reported that communicating appreciation seemed really complicated,” although the employees did not share those concerns.

In contrast, employees shared five ways that managers could effectively express appreciation:

  1. Touch base early and often. The small talk, morning greeting and time to share stories is as important as any task-related work.
  2. Give balanced feedback. If you only share praise, it comes off as disingenuous; only criticism is deflating. Employees want both types to know that you are interested in their development.
  3. Address growth opportunities. Help your staff find new ways to share their talents and learn.
  4. Offer flexibility. It’s not just about remote work or flex scheduling but giving employees control over aspects of their job is an indication of trust.
  5. Make it a habit. Build giving appreciation into your routine and find ways that allow you to frequently and authentically share your appreciation with your team.

Employee retention is more important than ever. Consider incorporating some of these tips into your regular practice to help demonstrate to your team that you truly value them. Just thinking that your employees are great is not enough. Show them!

The Little Things That Make Employees Feel Appreciated by Kerry Roberts Gibson, Kate O’Leary and Joseph R. Weintraub in Harvard Business Review, January 23, 2020.

leadership dot #3281: caboose

If you conjure up the classic image of a train, it likely would look something like the one below: an engine, a few boxcars, and a caboose. For decades that would have been accurate, but the traditional caboose has gone the way of steam engines and the pony express. Today, modern trains zip by without the benefit of the watchdog end car, relying instead on technology to switch tracks, signal imbalance, and light the rear of the train.

The demise of the caboose serves as a metaphor for most projects: there is no definitive ending. No one is assigned to “bring up the markers” (as the red lights on the caboose were called) and verify that all have passed through safety. We speed through projects and only look forward, valuing the start of the next project more than truly finishing and reflecting on the details of the first one.

There are functions involved with driving the engine and others that require tending to the finish. Structure your next project like the iconic train and value both.

leadership dot #3267: leisure

Thanks to the miracle of the internet, I’ll be able to teach a class tonight from Texas. When I was coordinating schedules to plan this visit, it seemed like a good option but now I regret the decision. It’s supposed to be a vacation, but teaching a class forces me to pack responsibility and my thinking cap in my luggage. I thought the point of a leisure trip was to leave them at home!

My students have also lamented the demands their employers place on them when they are theoretically away. While the internet and smartphones make it “easy” to join in on a meeting or respond to email, even a small interruption that brings us back to the work world negates a large benefit of time off.

As summer approaches and travel restrictions loosen, be vigilant with your time away and that of your team. This year more than most, we need a deep recharge of our mental batteries, free from distractions and minor obligations that suck us back to zero and reset the refresh scale. Even though you can take the internet with you, it makes a lousy travel partner and is best left at home.

leadership dot #3260: effective feedback

The book No Rules Rules describes the elements that have made Netflix successful as a business, entertainer, and employer. Their “culture of freedom and responsibility” is based on three anchors: building up talent density (having only “stunning colleagues”), then increasing candor (saying what you think but with positive intent), and finally removing controls — in that order.

Their approach is radical and requires a system-wide buy-in to operationalize it, but their lessons about feedback can be helpful to everyone. Netflix has distilled its feedback guidelines into what they call “4A” with two “A’s” for giving feedback and two more behaviors when receiving it:

Giving Feedback
1. Aim to Assist: Effective feedback is given only with positive intent to help improve the behavior of the recipient or the performance of the company. Netflix is clear that feedback is not hurtful, whining or about you.

2. Actionable: The reason for giving feedback is to explain how a specific change will make things better. Your comment must include suggestions for improvement, rather than just pointing out a problem.

Receiving Feedback
3. Appreciate: To be effective, the recipient must appreciate that the feedback is being given with positive intent and truly listen to what is being said, rather than automatically dismissing it.

4. Accept or Discard: It is up to the recipient to evaluate the feedback and to decide whether or not to implement the suggestions. Appreciating the feedback is required. Acting on it is optional.

If you follow the Netflix approach when you’re engaged in the feedback process, you’re sure to earn an A for your communication effectiveness.

Source: No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer, 2020